I’m gearing up for another month of frantic keyboard-slapping and infrequent stares into the middle distance as I attempt to recall what the hell I want to write next. It’s November; writers all over the place will be swamping coffee shops and cafes and doing their damnedest to get a first draft of a story finished… or not.
I have a rather ambivalent attitude to NaNoWriMo. On the one hand, I think it’s great for focusing the mind: the deadline and the urge to achieve a particular word can force you to seek opportunities to write at every available free moment. You can find times to write you’d never have guessed before: before breakfast? On public transport? At lunchtime? It’s amazing how you can eke out little moments of creativity during the day. The more you write, the easier it is to get back into it. It also means that your story is kept close to the forefront of your thoughts; it can become your obsession, your monomania for a month!
On the other hand, it can devolve into a typing-speed contest. People can all too easily forget that it’s a month of novel-writing. They get hung up on hitting a certain word-count each day and fret about ‘falling behind’; that they have ‘failed’ to keep up, rather than succeeded in writing the start of their novel. ‘Word-wars’ are waged between regions or groups to see who can write the greatest number of words. Because competition!
I was one of the daft sods helping to organise NaNoWriMo’s Edinburgh Region for a few years, a while back. It helped that I was outgoing and my co-‘Municipal Liaison’ (what a pretentious title that is!) was organised – together we brought in quite a few new folk.
One possible NaNo-related problem that our group solved early on was dealing with the fact that writing isn’t just for November; we held write-ins every week at local coffee shop Beanscene (hence the group name) until the city’s trams fiasco forced us to relocate. It was vital to keep the group going – we had to keep writing as a part of our lives, all year round. It wasn’t like a crash-diet for a month; it was a lifestyle change.
But I started getting hung up on being an organiser, rather than a writer. I loved having the group, and seeing new faces become regulars, and keeping things light, but I had to police the forums, and keep an eye on people’s safety (at one ‘write-in’, one student had the idea of pranking their friend while they were away ordering more coffee by taking their laptop and ‘adding’ to the story; I shut that idea down fast).
I also got sucked in to what I started to think of as the ‘cult of NaNo’: forget the quality, just write more words for the sake of writing more words! This wasn’t how I wanted to write. I didn’t want to add to the word count for the hell of it; I wanted to write the first draft of a story – and the story would be as long as it needed to be. If it was less than the 50,000-word target, then too bad for the target.
So after a break, I’m going back as just a regular participant (although the current MLs know I’m happy to help out). I want to get writing back into my lifestyle again. I have many stories I want to tell, and I want to get back into the habit of telling them. I will use NaNoWriMo as a writing tool; I shall control it, and I shan’t let it control me…
Postscript: during my time as ‘ML’, I was interviewed for a local online magazine. The author of the article, Ali, was taking part and made a video at the end of the month. I include it here as a sickening little time capsule to remind my friends how young we used to look… when we were young… (yeah; didn’t really think that one through…)